Star Shells The star shells, like the souls of men, Are gleaming through the gloom, A lovely radiance shudd'ring up Above a foul, grim tomb, To hang in brooding brightness till The fall brings black of doom. The Watcher for the Judgment Day In million drops of white; A sparkling splendour in the sky, A brilliant loop of light -- And murder's in yon rifle spurt That stabs the aching night! The slinking shadows stretch and race A-down the writhing floors, As up the jet walls of the night The silver seeker soars, And hovers, while the far guns roll Like threat from Heaven's shores! The peering sentries strain with eyes That rim the sandbag tops; The toiler stays his hand and stills And quakes and all life stops, Till back the shadows shrink and merge -- And blacker blackness drops! --Kim Beattie From And You! Toronto: MacMillan, 1929. Page 35.
“In million drops of white”: star shells contained a magnesium flare attached to a parachute; as magnesium burns it spits out lines of light, rather like a child’s Hallowe’en sparkler.
Because of the harsh light thrown out by a star shell, even at a distance a man’s silhouette or any trace of movement becomes suddenly visible to the enemy. If caught in the open when one lights off, you flatten out and stay still until they burn out, and you once again have the cover of darkness.